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Supplemental feeding of wild deer can improve survival and increase the population, but careless feeding can kill deer, transmit disease, or create management problems. Do not use corn or other fermentable carbohydrates as a primary emergency deer food. Deer are routinely killed this way by people trying to help. Examples below. Deer are browsers and have adapted to eating a wide variety of food sources, but their efficient stomachs require time to adapt to a new food source. A hungry deer that has not eaten corn recently can die within a day if it comes across a large pile of corn that it devours [bloat and acidosis].
There are over 10,000 deer farms in the U.S. where deer are fed products formulated for deer such as Purina Antler Advantage, with a protein content of about 16 to 20 percent, which are suitable as an emergency feed. Other similar pelletized products that can be used are available for rabbits, goats, or horses with main ingredients of alfalfa hay, soybean meal, distillers dried grains, rice bran, and corn (less than 25 percent) with protein of at least 12 percent. Goat (chow) feed is widely available. Oats are a preferred supplement. The state of Maine has previously used a mix of oats and barley, but has recently increased the use of alfalfa hay. Some deer may take time to adapt to these unfamiliar foods.
Deer enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables such as apples, grapes, small plums, cherries, pears, pumpkin, carrots, snap peas, tomatoes, squash, almonds, watermelon, figs, turnips, honey locust, watermelon, persimmons, and sunflower seeds. As with people, individual tastes vary. Acorns and other mast are an important food source.
Good trees include pears, apples, crab apples, persimmons, olive, aspen, white oaks and red oaks, ash, aspen, maple, popular, willow, white cedar, yellow birch, red mulberry, and chestnut. Also consider soybeans, dogwood, pokeweed, aster, ragweed, goldenrod, sumac, and honeysuckle.
Feeding deer may increase the transmission of chronic wasting disease and other diseases. Check the map to see if you are in a chronic wasting disease area. Reducing food pile density can reduce transmission probability. The Mississippi DWFP recommends using an above ground covered feeder. An example. Leaving food on the ground significantly increases risk of toxins and other harmful agents. Poop should be removed. Food should be distributed, otherwise dominate deer may prevent younger and smaller deer from eating. Feeding deer is illegal in some jurisdictions. Planting food plots is an effective, safe, and legal way to support local deer populations.